WASHINGTON — President Reagan, trumpeting a long-awaited breakthrough in arms talks, announced an "agreement in principle" Friday to ban all U.S. and Soviet intermediate-range nuclear missiles, setting the stage for the first superpower summit in America in 14 years.
It would be the first nuclear arms pact in Reagan's presidency and the first ever to ban an entire class of nuclear weapons.
The tentative pact was thrashed out in three days of intensive talks between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
Shevardnadze called it "a common success for all mankind, for all civilization." Shultz said it was "an important beginning" in arms control.
Setting a Date
Reagan, in a nationally broadcast announcement, said Shultz will meet with Shevardnadze in Moscow next month to set an agenda and date for a summit "later this fall" with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Reagan and Shultz said the meeting will be held in the United States, in line with the 1985 understanding between the President and Gorbachev to hold summits in the United States one year and in the Soviet Union the next.
The last summit in the United States was in 1973, when Leonid Brezhnev met with President Richard M. Nixon.
Asked about prospects for a summit, Howard H. Baker Jr., the White House chief of staff, said the date has not yet been set, but "I would estimate that late November is not a bad guess."
Research on Programs
As Reagan announced the agreement, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger approved the acceleration of research on six "Star Wars" programs that would be key to any defensive system against long-range Soviet nuclear weapons.
Efforts to negotiate an agreement reducing the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the two arsenals have faltered because of Soviet insistence that the United States abandon its research program on Star Wars, known formally as the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Pentagon spokesman Robert Sims said Weinberger was not attempting to dampen enthusiasm for the new arms accord, although he added, "There may have been people in Washington who would have preferred that it not be announced while the Soviets were in meetings here."
Announcing the tentative accord, Reagan said, "I'm pleased to note that an agreement in principle was reached to conclude an INF (intermediate nuclear forces) treaty."
The pact would impose a worldwide ban on U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges from 315 miles to 3,125 miles.
The Soviets would scrap 462 rockets aimed at Western Europe and 221 targeted on China and Japan. On the U.S. side, 332 ballistic and ground-launched cruise missiles would be withdrawn from Britain, Italy, West Germany and Belgium.
Shevardnadze, at a news conference at the Soviet Embassy shortly after Reagan's announcement, noted that his talks with Shultz had lasted hours longer than planned. "The road to an agreement . . . turned out to be more difficult than anyone had thought," he said.
The Soviet official said that during the talks, both sides "experienced a complex spectrum of emotions, from anxiety to a strong emotional uplift. The day before yesterday, I said to Secretary Shultz that it is time to bring in the harvest. And he agreed."
Byrd Issues Caution
Shevardnadze said that by year's end, "both we and our American partners have confidence the treaty will be signed."
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd welcomed "the apparent progress that has been made" but cautioned that "the Senate will carefully scrutinize details of any treaty."
"Keep in mind that it requires a two-thirds vote" to ratify any treaty, the West Virginia Democrat said. "Keep in mind that the Senate may want to add some reservations and understandings," including those dealing with conventional weapons and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Other congressional reaction also was generally positive.
Cranston to Lead Fight
But Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who said he would help lead the fight for ratification, said he already could foresee likely opposition from at least 22 of the 100 senators--primarily conservative Republicans.
"It's no cinch it will be approved," he said. "There are conservative Republicans in the Senate and outside the Senate who are against any agreement of any sort with the Soviet Union. I expect resolute opposition."
Senate GOP Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) predicted that the treaty would be ratified if provisions to verify compliance can be made "airtight."
Reagan, during a brief appearance in the White House press room, rejected any suggestion that he was in a rush to see Gorbachev again or to nail down an arms treaty. "I don't know anything in my life I've waited over six years for," he said with a chuckle.
Chances 'Very Good'
He said the treaty "pretty much" followed the formula he outlined in November, 1981, when he originally proposed eliminating intermediate-range missiles.